Gustav Klimt The Kiss
What is Eros? We classically associate Eros with sexual desire, with that feeling of "being in love." We immediately think of the story of Cupid, the Greek equivalent of Eros. Cupid takes out his weapons of love, his bow and arrow, and shoots an unsuspecting individual, who falls violently in love with the first person in sight. Beware of the plague of love! Eros, however, is much more than just base attraction. It is not just plain animal desire. The love between a man and a woman is uniquely more because the object of desire is unique. Cupid's victims are not raging bags of hormones, desiring sexual satisfaction in all surrounding subjects. Instead, they attach themselves to one person. They may do so irrationally, but not flippantly or erratically.
Eros is enrapture in another person who is distinct from all other persons. Man in love would not be satisfied with just any woman. He is only satisfied with his lover. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, Eros wants the Beloved; sexual desire wants sex. Eros is a transformation. It transforms lust to love. It grasps together desire and intrigue and results in a search for an individual. The object of sexual impulse is pleasure, a calculable subjective good. But eros takes sexual impulse and creates a desire for something intrinsically good; a fellow subject. The desire for sex becomes ordered when man seeks, not pleasure, but a person. Man loves in order to share an objective good, to participate in another's existence.
In Eros, lovers seek to possess the other’s heart. A lover wants to know all about the other person and make the other a part of himself or herself. It is a jealous love. In friendship, however, two individuals stand side by side, looking toward common interests. The beginning of friendship is a moment in solitude, which rejoices in the discovery of a third. Friends discover each other, drawn like children to the M&Ms in a bag of Costco trail mix. Ten minutes later, at the realization of the very healthy and decidedly chocolate-free trail mix, the group often scatters. While some might stay behind, chatting over the undesirable cashews and raisins, the interaction that follows is not defined by a hunger for the other person, unsatisfied or even annoyed by the intrusion others. Friends are happy to share their friendship with another worthy person. In Eros, however, lovers want to possess the other; consume the other; to become one.
Who would have thought such a colorful canvas of human emotion could appear from the base palate of animalistic sexual desire? Yet, all around us, we see the perversion of Eros into lust. We might even justify such a degradation of this love as a by-product of the necessary sexual component of Eros. But lust alone is not the totality of love.